Back in 1895, long before there was a Pacific Coast Highway or McClure tunnel, the sight of a Southern Pacific Railroad train rumbling through a tunnel down the bluffs toward the ocean would not be uncommon.

These freight trains originated in downtown Los Angeles and terminated their route at the end of a nearly mile-long wharf, appropriately named Long Wharf, that jutted out into the ocean just south of where Will Rogers State Beach would later be located.

During this time, the Santa Monica Bay had been christened Port Los Angeles and was in a heated competition with the port at San Pedro for dominance in the Los Angeles region. The tunnel itself was 331 feet long and ran below what is now Ocean Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.

Colis Huntington, who replaced Leland Stanford as president of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1890, was the driving force behind making Port Los Angeles in Santa Monica Bay the Southland’s dominant port. And, by 1893, building of the Long Wharf and the accompanying railroad had been completed and was now in use.

But after four years of legal and political maneuvers, San Pedro was deemed a better site for a deep sea harbor and all funding was directed in its direction. This led to the slow decline of the Long Wharf as a relevant and working port. In 1908, the entire route from Los Angeles to Long Wharf was converted into an electric trolley system that was touted as “The shortest and quickest line between Los Angeles and the Ocean,” and boasted, “101 miles for 100 cents.”

In a few years Long Wharf was formally closed as a port of entry for ocean-going vessels and now served only as a tourist destination. By 1913, the Long Wharf was now in serious disrepair, and officials decided to tear down the farthest most 1,600 feet of it and leave the remaining 3,120 feet primarily as a fishing pier.

Over the next few years a series of landslides buried the tracks at different points below the bluffs, forcing continuous clean-up and stabilization work. In July, 1920, railroad officials finally decided to dismantle the entire pier, citing the excessive maintenance costs that would not have covered any expected revenue. And by early 1921, after 27 years in existence, the Long Wharf and Port Los Angeles was no more.

The electric trolleys did still run as far as Santa Monica Canyon up until 1933, when the tracks and electric poles were finally removed along the former route. All that is left from this era is a sign you pass if you are heading north on PCH just south of Temescal Canyon Road, acknowledging it as the former site of Port Los Angeles. But I am confident that Santa Monicans past and present are more than pleased that we missed our chance at being a monstrous, industrialized shipping port. Just think of all we would have missed — and I’m not just talking about “Baywatch,” Dogtown or Muscle Beach.

Tom is a longtime Santa Monica resident who enjoyed a fulfilling 10-year career with the Santa Monica Red Cross. Tom currently is a writer and disaster management and recovery expert. Tell him your Santa Monica stories. He can be reached at

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